Diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, Nicki Perkins relies on a variety of medications and tablets, chest physical therapy and an oxygen tank to get through the day. Despite this, the 45-year-old owns a CrossFit gym and works out as much as possible, inspiring those around her.
The first few years of Perkins’ life proved challenging. While there was clearly something wrong with her health, it wasn’t until age four that she was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis.
Her parents, who were fairly young at the time, had to navigate through their new circumstance.
“We kind of all figured out stuff as we went,” Perkins recalls.
And there were always new challenges to overcome.
“After they figured out that I needed to take this medicine after I eat to digest food, it became this nightmare of my uncle and my dad holding me down and actually shoving the stuff down my throat.”
Cystic fibrosis is an incurable genetic disease that affects the digestive system, lungs and other organs in the body. While it varies for everyone, one of the biggest challenges it presents is the reduced lung function that makes every day tasks all the more difficult.
Trials aside, Perkins was determined not to let her condition hold her back. From early on, doctors encouraged her to work out, join sports and try to live a normal life.
Choosing to make the best of the situation was important from the beginning.
“There’s no point in being bitter and mad,” Perkins says.
“I just know that a positive attitude will help.”
And she has learned not to take anything too seriously.
“When I get tangled up in my oxygen at home, and Cali — Perkins’ dog — wipes out … it’s a sad situation to look at, but if you can just keep finding the humour, you can keep going.”
Perkins has always considered herself an athlete, and believes that staying active is especially important for those with cystic fibrosis.
CrossFit has been her activity of choice for close to five years now. She likes the diversity and the fact that it can be customized for all fitness levels.
“The work out is as hard as you can go, not as hard as someone else can go.”
In 2015, Perkins partnered up with coach Oleksiy Dakhno to open Chinook CrossFit, a gym in southeast Calgary.
The pair first met in 2013 when Perkins took one of Dakhno’s classes.
“She came into a class and she introduced herself … I didn’t know much about cystic fibrosis,” Dakhno recalls.
“I said okay, do whatever you can, go at your own pace and if you need to scale down, ask me.”
Since then, they have been working together, creating a community of like-minded people.
“All the athletes see me with my oxygen and nobody looks at me differently,” says Perkins, referencing the black, knee-high tank that she wheels around the gym.
“They cheer me on like they cheer on everyone else.”
Chinook CrossFit member Angela Gorner describes how Perkins has impacted her.
“Watching Nicki sit there and struggle through it, it’s just like okay, I’ve got to give it my all, because I have the ability to do this. I can’t sit and complain about it,” she says.
“Her life is just so different, everything is so much more work than it is for us.”
Even though Perkins can’t work out as hard as she would like, she pushes herself like any other CrossFit participant.
“I’m going to the max potential that I can possibly go with the lungs that I have,” she says.
“No, I can’t do a pull up, and no, I can’t do a muscle up, but I can do variations of them.”
Since opening the gym, Perkins has inspired those around her through her dedication to living a full, healthy life, despite the challenges that her cystic fibrosis presents.
“If somebody wants to follow me in the way I live my life so that they’re a better person, then that… that feels awesome.”
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